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Julio finishes second in the Home Run Derby, makes his mark


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MLB: Home Run Derby Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

If this blog has a most-famous particular phrase, it’s this: Félix is ours, and you can’t have him. Mariners fans trotted it out often, and it was perfect. The Mariners do not get a ton of attention, and Félix Hernández, despite All-Star appearances and a Cy Young award, was all ours. He certainly had respect around the league, but it was only in the Northwest that we treasured him so. The idea that Yankees fans so smugly assumed they could put together a good enough package for him, which is what inspired the phrase, was evidence that the rest of the world didn’t appreciate him like we did.

Friends, Julio Rodríguez belongs to everyone. Three months into his MLB career, Julio has catapulted his way into being one of national baseball’s biggest stars. Tonight, he put an exclamation point on it.

We haven’t had this in a long time. The most recent appearance by a Mariner in the Home Run Derby was Robinson Canó, and he flopped, with a measly seven home runs. But seeing Julio on the stage during the introductions was, by itself, heart stopping. I’ve never cared much about the Home Run Derby, but I suddenly wanted this so much. Julio simply looked like he belonged up there, and he did it wearing a Mariners jersey. It looked like he was there to put on a show.

It started immediately. In the first round of tonight’s T-Moible Home Run Derby, Julio effortlessly etched his way into history. Destroying his Round 1 opponent, Corey Seager (making it five days in a row that the Mariners beat the Rangers), his 32 home runs were the second-highest total in the first round of a Home Run Derby ever.

Julio was the only participant not to wear a hat while swinging, intent on letting the world see his beautiful, shining, smiling face as he crushed baseball after baseball. Three swings in, I stood up, and I couldn’t sit back down until it was over. It was a sight to see, and, being performed on a national stage, everyone got to watch it.

For a moment, it seemed that Albert Pujols was stealing Julio’s thunder. When Pujols finished, a crowd of baseball’s greatest players all gathered around him to show their respect. That’s the path that Julio’s on—to be everyone’s favorite player, who the kids 15 years younger than him need to celebrate in his golden years. You know, the stars of tomorrow. Because Julio’s no longer a star of tomorrow; he’s a star of today. Being a star means that you shine over everyone, and Pujols reminds us that being widely adored is a sign of respect. So there’s no need to be possessive.

Julio stole the show right back from Pujols, easily dethroning the two-time reigning champion, Pete Alonso, in round two. Alonso was the odds-on favorite to win the Derby. He was the center of this story for weeks. But not once Julio was through with him. Julio went first and hit another 31 home runs. In the combined few minutes of the first two rounds, Julio hit more home runs than 1961 Roger Marris.

On the Statcast broadcast on ESPN2, Jessica Mendoza was almost speechless. She pinpointed something that I’m not sure I’d realized about Julio: The combination of the beautiful swing and the loft he gets on the ball is “everything you want in a home run … it gives you time to appreciate the majesty of it.”

That pride on Scott Servais’s face was all of ours. Look at our boy, stunning the world with his charisma and talent. It was so clear that Julio was stealing the show that the DJ played Seattle legend Jimi Hendrix when Julio’s Round 2 opponent was hitting.

Gone are the days of we merry few sharing clips of Julio’s Spring Training inside-the-parker, passing it around like a banned book in a facist regime. Heading into the final round, Julio was the story in baseball.

In the final round, Julio struggled, but still managed to get 18 homers over the fences in Chavez Ravine. The broadcast continually cut away to Ken Griffey Jr. in the audience, who was there to hand out the trophy, which he’d eventually do to Juan Soto after Soto eeked out a win in the final round. Junior couldn’t pass the torch to Julio in the form of the trophy, but the metaphor was clear enough. Next year, when the Derby takes place at T-Mobile Park, nobody’s going to be talking about anyone but Julio Rodríguez.

Julio emphatically stomped onto the national stage tonight, and I doubt he’s ever going to recede behind the curtain again. Julio is for everyone, and I couldn’t be happier about it. He plays for our team, and we get to wear his jersey. But everyone can love him. It’s nice to share.